MUSIC PERFORMANCE When I played some favorite CDs, the P400 produced a surprisingly clear stereo image with noticeable width and depth. Compared with my reference setup, the P400's image was distinctly narrower but still wide and deep enough for enjoyable listening.
For example, superbly recorded studio CDs like Lyle Lovett's Anthology Volume One: Cowboy Man came through with a pleasingly open sound. The Boston speakers sounded slightly brighter than my reference speakers and a bit more focused and dry through the vocal range. But they were impressively detailed and balanced with blue-ribbon clarity and smoothness, especially on brass attacks and snare strikes. (Much of the credit goes to Boston 's longstanding metal-dome tweeter design, which has a small arc of acoustic resonators to help damp unwanted "ringing" at the highest treble octave and beyond.)
Even though the front left and right speakers in the P400 were physically closer to each other than in my reference system, I still heard convincing placement of instruments and voices on tracks like "I Love You Yesterday" - Dobro left, steel guitar right, backup vocals arrayed across the back of the stage. The P400 produced decent bass in pop music even without the subwoofer, so it could work fine by itself in an on-wall setup where home theater surround and big-movie bass aren't the goal.
But, hey - you're not going to settle for music in plain stereo with wimpy bass, are you? With the full system engaged and Dolby Pro Logic IIx dialed in to process stereo sources for 5.1-channel playback, the Plasma Series system really came to life. Sound was dramatically more open and spacious, and the front stage magically widened, with more depth and "air." Clearly, this system was designed with surround in mind from the get-go.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is about as thrilling a soundtrack as you'll find, and the sleek, four-piece Boston setup delivered truly big-screen sonics. If I was listening in the dark and didn't know what speakers were playing, I probably wouldn't have guessed that the front channels were all coming from one 40-inch-wide speaker. In Chapter 15 of the DVD, where the mounted Rohan warriors gallop across the screen, the surrounds contributed just enough sound to fool my ears into hearing action well beyond the ends of the P400, widening the sonic presentation and making me feel like I was in the middle of the action.
The Plasma Series system sounded great on Howard Shore 's sweeping (and occasionally tiring) orchestral score. Sequences such as the dramatic lighting of the mountaintop beacons to summon the Rohirrim really delivered the thrill of big-orchestra sound. I found that engaging my preamp's THX Re-Equalization improved the Boston system's musical balance on this DVD and others, keeping strings and brass attacks from sounding too edgy.
Boston 's PV1000 subwoofer is yet another excellent example of the recent trend of shoehorning a powerful amplifier and a small but beefy driver into a small cabinet. I was impressed by the sub's ability to deliver the goods on big-bass blowouts like Return of the King 's epic climax. When the earth swallows up the hordes of slimy, digitally conjured bad guys, the sub produced killer, earth-moving bass. Whether playing movies or music, the PV1000 consistently delivered the goods, blending naturally with the P400.
The center-channel portion of the P400 worked exceptionally well, projecting balanced, intelligible sound even for listeners seated at the ends of the couch. As surrounds, the P430s delivered depth and dimension on cue. I aimed 'em slightly rearward (as I usually do with plain, non-dipole two-ways) to take advantage of reflections from the back wall.
BOTTOM LINE The Boston Acoustics Plasma Series system delivers big sound from remarkably trim speakers. My only reservation is the $3,500 price tag. Sure, you can match its performance with a conventional, out-in-the-room six-speaker setup - from Boston , among others - for less money. But then you'd have two more speakers to deal with. If you're looking for a minimalist package, Boston 's Plasma Series is a definite contender. It's one of the best-sounding on-wall speaker systems I've heard.
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